Ma Ying-jeou must use better publicity tactics

Late last month, opposition presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou picked former economics minister and Premier Vincent Siew as his running mate. The choice raised many eyebrows. It triggered controversy even among supporters of the “pan-blue alliance,” composed of the Kuomintang (KMT), the People First Party and the New Party. Some critics said Siew, 68, is too advanced in years to impress young voters.

Other critics pointed out that Siew was the running mate of Lien Chan, candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT) in the 2000 presidential election, in which the KMT was trounced by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and lost its status as the ruling party. A recent poll by the mass-circulated daily China Times showed that the Ma-Siew ticket might lose to the DPP if the latter’s candidate, Frank Hsieh, names former premier Su Tseng-chang as his partner in next March’s presidential election. The finding seems to indicate that Ma made a poor choice. This is not the case, in our view. For one thing, Hsieh has yet to decide who his partner should be. It’s highly doubtful that he will pick Su, who had fought fiercely with him for the DPP’s nomination of its presidential candidate. Also, it’s about eight months until the election takes place. If the KMT adopts better campaign strategies, it can certainly gain a better chance of winning the electoral battle.

The primary factor behind Ma’s choice of Siew was that the former premier, a native who is friendly with some major political figures of the DPP, would help him win the backing of voters who are traditionally supportive of the ruling party. Siew’s reputation for devising policies that contributed to Taiwan’s rapid economic growth was another reason why Ma decided to make him his partner. Ma apparently considered it crucial to emphasize the KMT’s ability to improve the economy because the DPP’s mismanagement of the island’s economy has caused misery for many citizens.

Ma’s choice of Siew will help the KMT increase its voter support in southern Taiwan. Siew has the advantage of being a native, and this will, to a great extent, offset Ma’s image as a “waishengren” (a person from another province). The DPP has been all along accusing Ma of being unqualified to be president because he was born in Hong Kong.

Siew, however, suffers from the disadvantage of having a quiet, reserved personality. Whether he can effectively make a deep impression on voters on his campaign trail in the south remains to be seen.

If the KMT is to win the presidential election, it must carry out an aggressive publicity campaign. So far, the strategies that the party has been using to woo potential voters have generally been inadequate or unsuitable.

The DPP is not a capable party when it comes to running the country. During the seven years since it assumed power, Taiwan has regressed rapidly economically, socially and politically. Unemployment has been rampant since the DPP became the ruling party in 2000.

At the same time, the island’s businesses have been relocating to mainland China at a growing rate.

This year, Taiwan’s competitiveness was outranked by the mainland, according to the latest World Competitiveness Yearbook published by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD).

In the IMD yearbook, Taiwan was rated as the 18th most competitive country in the world. In contrast, mainland China jumped three places to 15th.

In terms of government efficiency, one of the four major categories considered in the report, Taiwan was ranked 20th as compared to 23rd last year, while the mainland saw its ranking climb to 8th place from 17th.

Socially, the gap between rich and poor has been widening, the crime rate remains high, and communal discord has increased because the DPP, whose leaders are mainly descendants of those who came to the island from the southeastern province of Fujian, tends to be biased against residents from other parts of China.

And politically, corruption has increased significantly in government. The ruling party has been trying constantly to impose its ideology on the people.

These problems will certainly grow in gravity if the pro-independence DPP continues to rule the island. The party, preoccupied with making Taiwan an independent state, has never devoted itself wholeheartedly to improving the local economy and making the island a more stable and harmonious society.

The KMT can win the upcoming war if it focuses on exposing the weaknesses and mistakes of the ruling party. Thus far, the Ma campaign has only sought to highlight the qualities of the former mayor’s personality. This tactic is far too inadequate when battling an opponent that’s clever at distorting the facts and smearing its competitor.